Monday, February 23, 2009

Books I have enjoyed

For kids:

I have been on a qwest for some time for the perfect children's Bible. I wanted it to be actual Scripture with lifelike pictures on the page with the Scripture. I have found ones with good pictures that didn't use the actual Scripture and ones that quote Scripture but don't have the pictures on the page with the story they describe. I actually started making my own, getting Genesis and Exodus done before becoming so weary trying to find appropriate pictures that I gave up.

All this to say that I am VERY excited about Crossway's new ESV Illustrated Family Bible. It has 270 actual Scripture selections from the Bible, each illustrated with realistic images that will help children picture the stories.

And for adults:

The Walk by Michael Card is a small book that I think is out of print. In it, Card tells of his relationship with his Bible professor in college and what he learned of discipleship from him. God taught me much of Himself and His vision for discipleship through this simple book. When in doubt, "flee to the life of Jesus." Jesus' example is always a safe place to rest, meditate, and learn.

This little book transformed how I thought about discipleship. I have been given several neat opportunities to speak to large groups of ladies over the years. Those opportunities were REALLY exciting to me. But it was easy to justify sacrificing ministry to individuals in that season. I didn't have time to do both right?! So I needed to protect myself so that I could teach masses of ladies. Wasn't that a more effective use of my talents and opportunities?

If we flee to the life of Jesus, we see this for the myth it is. Jesus taught masses for sure. But He never did it at the expense of His ministry to the few. He taught 5000. He taught 12. And He taught 3. And in the end, it was the inner three that took His legacy to the world.

"I would like to speak to you now about discipleship. ... I will tell you a story because something as important as discipleship cannot be reduced to a definition or contained in a program. The truth of it must be lived out to be properly understood. It is organic; it flexes and moves and defies definition. That is the way of discipleship.

The means of discipleship is ... essentially a walk that two people share together over the course of months or, hopefully, years. It is in the context of the walk that the truth becomes fleshed out and alive. We see the truth of this in the life of Jesus." (p.
5-6)

If you are looking for a 5 step program on discipleship, this is not it. However, if you want an examination of discipleship that focuses on the life of Jesus, this little book is likely to be life changing for you.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Faith v. Worry

I have done a lot of thinking and writing about faith and worry (especially in my book here). This morning, I found this quote from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones especially interesting and helpful. He was commenting on Matthew 6:30 in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. … We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them. … Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. … That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.

This is so true!! Circumstances sweep over me and I act like the classic struggling swimmer--flailing about in the surf. I remember learning in lifeguard class that the first thing you do to a flailing swimmer is dunk them to get their attention. They have to start thinking again or they will likely drown the one coming to help them

Look. Observe. Consider. The Greek words used in Matthew 6 indicate to learn thoroughly, examine carefully, and to consider well. In other words, STOP and THINK.

But think about what? Consider what?

26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Consider God--consider how He has set up and provided for nature. Consider what He has revealed about Himself through Scripture and through creation. What do you know to be true about God? Are you letting your temporary circumstances define your beliefs for you? Or are you interpreting your temporary circumstances through the eternal revelation of God through His word? Don't throw all you believe about God out the window because you are buffeted by troubling circumstances. THINK.

HT: http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/quotes/a-failure-to-think.php


Friday, February 13, 2009

Lessons from the life of Joseph

I have always loved the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. So often, the circumstances of my life have made little sense to me. Sometimes, circumstances just don't go my way. But other times, people sin against me. Mean, cruel, hurtful sin. And sometimes, the people who sin against me should be the ones who are most for me--my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I can't reconcile it on my own or see how the pieces could possibly fit together for good, I turn to God's revelation of Himself through the story of Joseph and I get perspective.

What would it be like to be sold into slavery by your own brothers? To be accused of rape and then thrown into prison unjustly? Then, receiving a glimmer of hope that you would get out, just to be left to rot in prison for years longer. What was it like to face betrayal after betrayal after betrayal? Even after he got out of prison, his promotions surely felt hollow in light of all he had lost by betrayal up to that point. If he was like me, he was likely so wounded by what he had experienced up to that point that he couldn't enjoy any of his successes for fear of new betrayal.

Genesis doesn't record much in the way of Joseph's emotions, and one might think he just got over it and it never bothered him. But I always cry when I read Genesis 45 and see Joseph's deep, gutteral cry when his brothers show up and the fractured pieces of his life suddenly come together. He finally sees this complex tapestry God has woven to put him in the place where he alone could save the tiny nation of Israel from being wiped out by famine. Suddenly, Joseph's decades of suffering have the most profound meaning as God uses him to preserve the line of the Messiah. Joseph tells his brothers, "You meant if for evil, but God meant it for good." And not just small time, sentimental good, but deep eternal long term Kingdom building good. Without Joseph, the little nation of Israel starves to death and we wouldn't have Jesus.

Joseph's story is so beautiful to me. My circumstances are radically different than his, but my God is the same. The same God who miraculously wove the worst of sin and betrayal against Joseph into beautiful good is the same God weaving together the tapestry of my life. It gives me perspective on my current struggles.

However, in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11, NONE of these things about Joseph are mentioned.


22By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

There are 2 parts to the lesson of Joseph's life. First, God used him for kingdom purposes in this earthly life. But, second, and maybe even more importantly, God used Joseph for eternal kingdom purposes of which Joseph at his death still looked on from afar. And though Joseph hadn't seen it accomplished in his lifetime, his faith was evidenced when he continued to believe it anyway.

Here is a GREAT sermon entitled The Long Road Home (what a great name!) from an intern at our church. He deals with the contrast between Joseph's earthly reality and his convictions of God's eternal plan. It is an encouraging, convicting discussion from Exodus 13 of the tension between our hope of God's promises being realized in our lifetime verses the eternal kingdom purposes extending well past our lifetime that He's working in and through us.

I hope it is encouraging to you.




Saturday, February 07, 2009

In the Waiting -- Meditations for Christian Single Women

Isaiah 30:18 (ESV) 18Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

You are a Christian single woman. You value marriage and children and long to be a godly wife and mother. However, God has not yet fulfilled these desires in your life. Married or single, unfulfilled desire is a lifelong problem. Sometimes we desire things in opposition to God. Dealing with those types of sinful desires is hard, but it pales in comparison to the struggle of dealing with God-given desires that remain unfulfilled. Why would God impress on our hearts the value and worth of a God-centered marriage without also fulfilling that desire by giving us a God-honoring spouse? What should Christian singles do with this unfulfilled desire? What do you do in the waiting?

We are given MANY examples in Scripture of believers on whom God called to wait--Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, and Hannah to name a few. Their time of waiting on God’s hand was an integral part of their walk with God. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to wait patiently for the hand of the Lord to work in our lives. It is human nature to think of periods of waiting as holding patterns with no discernable value. Instead, Scripture teaches that there are great blessings to be had in the actual waiting period.

Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Lamentations 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Waiting is not easy. Our nature is to fret and worry. Instead, God calls us to confidence and peace. Exactly how do we move from anxiety to peace during singleness? First, when you are tormented by loneliness, you need to review what you know to be true about God and then take your thoughts captive and make them submit to the truth.

2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV) We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

What do you know of the character of God? In a nutshell, God is sovereign, wise, and compassionate.

Isaiah 46:9-11 (ESV) 9remember the former things of old;for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,' 11calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

Romans 16:27 (ESV) to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Psalm 103:13 (ESV) As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.

God is in charge, He knows what He’s doing in your life, and you can trust that He has not lost control of your circumstances. Not only does God know what He’s doing, His plan for your life reflects both His all-surpassing wisdom and His fathomless love for you. His plan is good and right, and you can TRUST Him with the details of your life.

Secondly, you must avoid the pitfall of comparing yourself with your sisters in Christ who are dating, engaged, or happily married. They didn't get married because they have it all together, and God does not ask you to wait because you are unworthy to get married. The Bible says simply that such comparisons are NOT WISE. If you must compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to Christ. There is NO other standard of righteousness in our Christian lives. Of course, we thank God for women who are examples of godliness to us, but we do NOT use them as our standard of righteousness. They are not the standard to which we must measure. We measure ourselves by Christ’s standard of righteousness, to which we all fall short.

2 Corinthians 10:12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Philippians 4:11-13 11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul is a funny one to talk on contentment because his life was a mess. Not only did Paul have no spouse, no children, no steady income, and no home, he was often imprisoned, beaten, and even shipwrecked. But, somehow, he had learned to overcome in "all circumstances." He was lonely, distressed, and oppressed, but never crushed or in despair. Paul always had hope, and that hope was NOT that God was going to change his circumstances on earth. Paul’s hope was that his relationship with Christ was secure, his inheritance in heaven was certain, and that, in between, God was trustworthy with the details of his life. Paul was able to be content in the hard circumstances as well as the times of plenty because he had great confidence in the power of Christ. Paul was consistent this way. In virtually every instruction Paul gives in his epistles—to husbands, to wives, to slaves, to the church in general—the backdrop is the gospel and our sufficiency in Christ. Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches (John 17). He is the Head and we are His Body (Ephesians 5, Colossians 2). He is the Bridegroom and we are His Bride (Ephesians 5). Your only hope for overcoming with joy in the circumstances surrounding singleness is finding your hope, your worth, and your identity in Jesus Christ. The good news is that this will also be your only hope for overcoming with joy in marriage, child rearing, times of plenty, times of want, and any future circumstance as well.

The mental battles we face when single are not specific to just single life. Many of your Christian sisters face similar emotional struggles with spouses, children, jobs, homes, cars, family relationships, and so forth. Even the struggle with loneliness will not be alleviated simply by a change in circumstances. Have you ever been in a relationship and still felt lonely? The godliest of spouses will not be able to satisfy the deep longing in your soul for relationship.

Psalms 73 25Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

God is the only hope you have for satisfaction. Does your hope for contentment rest on any other desire than the desire to know God? What circumstance do you need God to change in order for you to be content? However you answer that question, you must examine that desire because it can quickly become or may already be an idol. God is quite jealous for His own glory and does not tolerate idolatry at any level. Thankfully, His jealousy is for our good as well as His glory, for when our affections are set first upon and satisfied fully in the Name of God, only then will we know true contentment, peace, and satisfaction.

If you are in this stage of life, I am so sorry for the loneliness you likely deal with most days of your life. Going to bed each evening and waking up each morning alone is a very hard thing. If you would like to leave your name and a bit of your story on the comment board, I will pray for you specifically as you wait on God with the Psalmist.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Miles to go before I sleep

On January 14, my husband's mother died after a long battle with ovarian cancer. That began a daunting journey for our family, one which we knew was coming but was hard to prepare for since we didn't know the exact timing. I have a lot of thoughts on the trip that I want to write about here. I am not going to talk about the funeral portion of the trip out of respect for those who are dealing privately with the loss of a wife, mother, and grandmother.

Almost exactly one year ago, my husband and I took an hour and a half flight with our 2 boys to visit his parents in Canada. An hour and a half! At the end of that flight, I committed that I WOULD NOT be flying with my youngest again any time soon. It was like holding the Tasmanian Devil in my lap for an hour. So knowing for months that we would need to be taking a cross country flight from Seattle to SC with both boys has hung weightily over my head. The death was expected, and yet still caught us off guard. We thought she had a few more weeks. Then there was much to figure out with family spread all across the country. Perhaps the most stressful time for me, Agenda Wendy that I am, were the days knowing I was flying across country in a week or less but unable to purchase tickets until we got the exact dates nailed down. But we finally got the dates settled, and Sovereign God began His work to show me He had the details in His hand by giving us reasonable tickets purchased about 3 days before we left.

The flight out was reasonable--3 and 1/2 hours to Minneapolis and 1 and 1/2 hours on to Charlotte. But after we got on the flight to Charlotte, it was obvious my 4 year old was done flying and I was about done dealing with him. I prayed for God's grace--because I was out of toys, suckers, and patience. My son didn't calm down, but the pilot came on to say we were beginning our descent--25 minutes ahead of schedule. I was a little shell shocked after getting off the flight. The main thing that was rocking my world was the knowledge that in less than 2 weeks, I had to do it again by myself with the boys and that the flight back would be 2 hours longer than the flight out. At that point, it seemed completely impossible.

The next days were a series of get togethers of various sizes in various places with various family members. A couple of nights in Greenville, one night in Tennesee, back to Greenville, and finally to my parents' home in Orangeburg, SC. Eventually, my boys wore out on meeting new people and sleeping in new places.

From the moment I got off the plane coming, I began praying earnestly for God's grace and mercy to help me get back home by myself with the boys. After a day or so, it became something that I had to deal with, but it was no longer the anvil hanging over my head ready to crush me. I was able to enjoy my time with family.

I called the airlines ahead and had a conversation with them about my needs with 2 young boys and 2 car seats. They requested "assistance at all points" including a cart to transport my boys and stuff at our connection in Houston. Car seats were a big problem. They are very difficult to carry across an airport, but my boys do 20 times better sitting for long periods when they are in them. I'm glad I took them on the plane, but it was a pain getting them from place to place.

My dad got a gate pass and helped the boys and I get to our gate in Charlotte. The gate attendants in Charlotte helped me get the seats on the plane. All good so far. It was hectic but manageable. Then, on the flight from Charlotte, I asked the stewardess to double check that the cart would be available to help me make my very tight connection in Houston. She came back and said, "Well, this is how it is in Houston ..." and proceeded to tell me that we would be walking outside from the plane to the terminal, a cart could then pick me up and take me to an elevator. Then I'd have to get on the tram by myself with my 2 boys and 2 carseats. Then I'd go through another elevator after which I could signal a cart (one wouldn't be waiting) to help me to my gate, which was at the farthest point from where I would be landing in the very large Houston airport. At that point, I felt the stress kicking in. My blood sugar instantaneously dropped and I had to start eating a snack right then. I think I told the stewardess something like, "Well, I guess I'll just be where they leave me at the elevator indefinitely because I can't get on the tram by myself with all this." Note to self--assistance at all points doesn't mean the same thing to airport people that it means to me. I'll be sure to get greater clarification if I ever fly again.

About the point my blood sugar was plummetting at the idea of sitting at the doors of the tram indefinitely and missing my flight to Seattle, a sweet voice piped up from the seat behind me. "I can help you." Her gate was close to mine and she would be glad to help me get to mine however she could. I am notoriously independent and accepting help from strangers who aren't being paid to help me is hard for me. She started talking quickly--she was with Calvary Chapel and was returning from a 5 month stint in Costa Rica telling children about the Lord. It was a weird moment, not the kind of thing of normal conversations on airplanes in that situation. Yet I knew exactly what it was the moment she said it--God was letting me know she was my sister in Christ who understood how God intended the community of believers to work. She was a servant for Christ and it was God's best for both of us that she be there for me in that moment.

Jennifer helped me wonderfully across the airport. We made it just in time for my connecting flight. It was hectic and stressful, and yet there was something about God's gift of grace to me through Jennifer that made it one of my sweetest memories from the trip. I probably only spent about 20 minutes with her, but we had a connection through Jesus. We were family in Christ. She knew it and I knew it.

The boys did relatively well on the long flight from Houston to Seattle. The 2 year old did his tasmanian devil act again, but he waited until the last 15 minutes of the nearly 5 hour flight, and it seemed a reasonable response to all the restraint he had endured all day. I felt a bit tasmanian devilish myself on the inside. I called my husband when we landed and he said he had gotten a gate pass and was waiting for us as soon as I got off the plane. My hero!

I am back in Seattle--processing in particular the way God ministers grace. My experience is that He gives just enough. His grace is sufficient--it is enough for what we need. He didn't remove the obstacles, which would have been my first choice. Instead, He gave help--nourishment and aid--to do something that I absolutely knew I couldn't do on my own. He gave it incrementally, not all at once. He gave it sometimes in barely noticeable ways. Other times, He was very obvious with His gift of grace.

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

It's funny that I didn't pray nearly as extensively for God's help when I was flying with my husband. It wasn't until I was completely alone and at the end of myself that I really clung to God for help. And now I am so thankful for that experience. He increased my faith, and there is nothing more beautiful and sustaining than faith in Him. He is worthy and I praise Him anew today.